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An overlooked factor at an organization: The climate of psychological safety

The Fearless Organization

The Fearless Organization

by Amy C. Edmondson

The Fearless Organisation: Creating Psychological Safety At The Workplace

Amy Edmondson is a management professor at Harvard Business School and has done a tremendous amount of work in the area of psychological safety.

In her Tedx Talk, she describes psychological safety as “a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.” Psychological saf...

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Most companies do not pay adequate attention to the need for psychological safety to help people cope with the uncertainty and anxiety of organizational change. Psychological safety at any company is vital for helping people overcome the defensiveness and “learning anxiety” they face at work, esp...

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Company strategy can be viewed as a hypothesis, to be tested continuously, rather than a plan. 

Organisational learning – championed by company leaders but enacted by everyone – requires actively seeking deviations that challenge the assumptions underpinning a current strategy.

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Being able to say that you don’t know and driving participation through inquiry are two strong tenets of psychological safety. Edmondson shares some rules of thumb for asking a good question: One, you don’t know the answer; two, you ask questions that don’t limit responses to Yes or No, and three...

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Working in a psychologically safe environment doesn’t mean that people always agree with one another for the sake of being nice. It also doesn’t mean that people offer unequivocal praise or unconditional support for everything you have to say. Psychological safety is about candour, about making i...

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Psychological safety isn’t about personalities and refers to the work climate, and climate affects people with different personality traits in roughly similar ways. In a psychologically safe climate, people will offer ideas and voice their concerns regardless of whether they tend toward introvers...

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Although trust and psychological safety have much in common, they aren’t interchangeable concepts. A key difference is that psychological safety is experienced at a group level. Further, psychological safety describes a temporally immediate experience

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Psychological safety is not an “anything goes” environment where people aren’t expected to adhere to high standards or meet deadlines. It isn’t about becoming “comfortable” at work. Psychological safety enables candour and openness and, as such, thrives in an environment of mutual respect.

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An appropriate, empathetic and powerful question has the following attributes:

  • Generates curiosity in the listener
  • Stimulates reflective conversation
  • Is thought-provoking
  • Surfaces underlying assumptions
  • Invites creativity and new possibilities
  • Ge...

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What the leader needs to do for setting up the stage:

  • Frame the work – Set expectations about failure, and interdependence to clarify the need for voice
  • Emphasise the purpose – Identify what’s at stake, why it matters, and for whom

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What a leader needs to do to invite participation:

  • Demonstrate situational humility – Acknowledge gaps
  • Practice inquiry – Ask good questions and model intense listening
  • Set up structures and processes – Create forums fo...

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What a leader needs to do to garner productive response:

  • Express appreciation – Listen, acknowledge and thank
  • Destigmatize failure – Look forward, offer help. Discuss, consider and brainstorm the next steps
  • Sanction clear violat...

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